The New York Times this morning has a review of Bravo’s “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist” winner Abdi Farah’s show at the Brooklyn Museum. It sounds rather disappointing in its scope — “it fills a glorified broom closet,” Karen Rosenberg writes. She continues:
Mr. Farah’s cast resin sculptures of fallen men have energy and a kind of grace. They have solid references, too, from Eric Fischl to Hank Willis Thomas (whose photographic series “Unbranded” has been installed nearby). But the basketball shorts and sneakers they wear are a conceptual crutch. They imply that the artist doesn’t trust his own ability to make gesture convey meaning.
The paintings are less impressive, tortured expressionist self-portraits with an obvious debt to Photoshop image filters.
That’s pretty much all Rosenberg has to say regarding Abdi’s show itself; the remainder of her review critiques “Work of Art” as a show.
Rosenberg’s thoughts about his scultures are spot-on. The figures are striking, even on the 2-dimensional medium of television. I can’t help but wonder, however, if the sportswear coverings are simple excuses to avoid sculpting feet and genitalia. Abdi sculpted the hands well — and, as seen on the “Work of Art” finale, even managed to reattach them satisfactorily after accidentally chipping them off during unpacking. It seems unlikely that he was avoiding the feet aesthetic. Instead, it seems the sportswear is a holdover from Abdi’s strong pop-slash-superhero leanings. I know, the artistes cry; commercialism besmirching a pure medium! Deal with it.
Abdi’s paintings, for the most part, follow suit with the Photoshop weakness. One work shows Abdi suspended upside down, with colors inversed and his genitalia again obscured. One painting of an occupied bodybag made photographer David LaChapelle cry on TV; I find it engaging, but it doesn’t open up my waterworks. My favorite painting is of a man walking away from the frame, carrying a number of suitcases — an entire life bundled into a modern bindle. [Check out Abdi’s work on Bravo’s site here.]
Rosenberg ultimately dismisses the work as that of a young, inexperienced artist, noting Abdi is 22 and recently graduated from the University of Pennyslvania. So what does she have to say about the TV show?
…[H]opes were dashed when “Work of Art” turned out to be a cookie-cutter Bravo production, full of divas and toadies, trumped-up conflicts and flirtations, and complete with a signature, portentous sendoff (“Your work of art didn’t work for us”). And while the open casting call should in theory have suggested some alternatives to the standard career track, for every self-taught artist on the show there seemed to be two more who, like Mr. Farah, had art degrees and fellowships under their belts.
Anyone who expected “Work of Art” to transcend contemporary reality competition television, trumped-up disputes and the ever-damaging frankenbites was naive. I didn’t expect the show to transcend art; I expected art to transcend the show. Sometimes it did; the winning work from an episode in which the contestants created covers for classic literature was phenomenal in its simplicity. Much of the time the art fell flat, for any number of reasons: unenviable time constraints; material failure; lack of aesthetic understanding; inability to translate well to 2-dimensional television.
The ultimate achievement of “Work of Art” was not producing great art or identifying the “Next Great Artist.” Instead, it was opening up an insular culture to the masses, making art accessible to those with little experience or intimidated by some of the pretensions that unfortunately mark the field. My favorite part of each episode was not even on TV; I always raced to New York Magazine’s recap and discussion of the episodes (NYM critic Jerry Saltz, who wrote the recaps, was also a judge on “Work of Art” and so had many interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits to share and informed commentary to make). I highly recommend checking out those recaps here.
Rosenberg concludes half-heartedly.
Can “Work of Art,” the program, be fixed? Maybe. Any attempt would certainly have to address the time constraints put on the artists. The work in the finale, made over three months, was much better than anything in the earlier, rushed challenges.
I’m afraid I have to disagree with her there. Miles’ work in particular comes to mind; his final show was unthrilling, disengaging, intellectually cold. Maybe that’s because it was conceptualist; I don’t wish to condemn such abstractions. Nevertheless, much of his work on the show was better, perhaps because it was more rushed. Miles, rightly, won three of the nine time-constrained challenges, more than any other contestant.
I never expected “Work of Art” to produce these artists’ greatest works; I expected them to be interesting and captivating and to introduce me to art, even if in brief, conflict-laden flashes. In that sense, “Work of Art” worked for me.